Podcast: After Charlottesville, Civil Rights Under Trump at the Fore
The Big Story, Episode 67

Last weekend’s bloody Virginia demonstrations incited by white supremacists will focus new attention on how the Trump administration is altering the Justice Department’s approach to hate crimes and other civil rights issues, CQ legal affairs reporter Todd Ruger explains. It’s a big test for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, already under fire from the president and because of his own record on race.

Show Notes:

Podcast: Inside the Senate’s Struggle With Civility
The Big Story, Episode 65

Senators are heading home for summer break, after a health care implosion highlighted the partisan ill will that’s festered all year. Ed Pesce, who edits CQ’s Senate coverage, explains how hardline GOP procedural tactics have taken the chamber to a new low, and what could get civil deliberations back on track.

McCain’s Many Parts in Getting to ‘No’ on Health Care
Hero, then goat to his Senate GOP colleagues. But did the maverick actually bridge their gap?

Very rare is the senator with the singular sway to play the scold, the savior, the spoiler, the sacrificial offering and the spurned playmaker for his own party — and all within a spurt of fewer than 60 hours. But that was how this week played out for John McCain.

He may have had other, similar stretches during his three decades working to hold the title of the Senate’s main maverick. But for the indefinite future, he’s not going to have another one nearly as baroque, with so many highs and lows in so short a stretch that delighted, confounded, openly infuriated but secretively satisfied fellow Republicans.

Rare Warning to Trump From Hill GOP Leader
Firing Sessions could poison president’s agenda in Senate, Cornyn says

The Senate majority’s No. 2 leader has given President Donald Trump one of the strongest pushbacks from any Republican in Congress this year: Firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions could bring to a halt GOP cooperation with the administration’s legislative agenda.

“Well, it’s the president’s prerogative, but he is then going to jeopardize, potentially, his ability to get anything else done here,” Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Wednesday. “And I don’t think that should be his desire or preference.”

Sessions on the Cusp of Martyrdom or Oblivion
If he’s fired, will former Senate GOP colleagues draw a line against Trump?

When Jeff Sessions was preparing last fall to begin a third decade in the Senate, his future as a rock-ribbed conservative legislative force looked limitless, but just three seasons later, he’s been pushed to the precipice of his career.

The almost daily taunting he’s taking from President Donald Trump points toward one of two probably quick endings to his brief run as attorney general, quitting or getting canned.

How Bad Political Manners Fomented the Health Care Mess
Lawmakers feel free to misbehave when their leaders drop ‘regular order’

A president whose brand is all about flouting basic political manners is getting matched in misbehavior more and more by fellow Republicans in Congress.

The first six months under President Donald Trump have been marked not only by a further coarsening of GOP rhetoric, stoked mainly by incessant infighting in backrooms, but also by increasing defiance of decades of behavioral norms — from Trump’s nominal friends and skeptics alike, when they’ve been trying to work with him and when they’ve been scrambling to maneuver despite him.

GOP Senators Take Sessions’ Side in Spat With Trump
Former colleagues provide cover to beleaguered attorney general

Confronted with the rare and awkward choice of siding with either a president of their party or a Cabinet member who’s a former colleague, Senate Republicans are sounding of single mind:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, until five months ago a senior GOP senator from Alabama, has done nothing to merit the upbraiding he’s been taking from President Donald Trump.

Podcast: Why Republicans Haven’t (Yet) Said Nyet to Trump on Russia
The Big Story, Episode 63

CQ Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro and senior editor David Hawkings consider the Watergate scandal and what its rhythms reveal about why today’s GOP lawmakers are still taking a wait-and-see approach to the sprawling, sometimes confusing connections between the Russians and President Donald Trump.

Tiptoes on the Hill Back Into War Debate
A bipartisan push for Trump to seek fresh authority to combat terrorism

Sixteen years on, Congress seems to be getting genuinely close to forcing itself into a fresh debate on how to prescribe the use of military force against terrorism.

Writing a new war authorization will not happen before the end of the year, meaning those deliberations would be influenced by the dynamics of the midterm election campaign. But proposals to force the issue onto the agenda have the potential to blossom into sleeper hits on this summer’s remarkably blockbuster-deprived roster of consequential legislation.

Congressional Pay and Benefits at a Standstill, With a Cost
Self-denial makes political sense, but doesn’t aide Capitol culture or productivity

Call it quitters’ candor.

Members of Congress sometimes say the darnedest things on their way out the door, especially when taking their leave on their own terms and not because voters insisted on it. Jason Chaffetz recently became the latest such lawmaker.

Podcast: GOP’s Health Care Puzzle Not Solved by Protests, Parades
The Big Story, Episode 61

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likened his search for 50 senators willing to vote for the same repeal-and-replace legislation to solving a Rubik’s Cube, a task not helped by many GOP skeptics getting besieged back home this July 4 recess. Roll Call reporters Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski see no reason to predict the health care impasse is about to be broken.

 

Podcast: McConnell’s Health Care Seesaw
The Big Story, Episode 60

The Senate majority leader hasn’t abandoned hope of finding 50 votes for the year’s top GOP priority. But postponement over the July Fourth break won’t make it easier to bridge the gap between those focused on Obamacare’s repeal and those worried about too stingy a replacement, Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and David Hawkings explain.

Show Notes:

Six Who Could Succeed Pelosi — Someday
Ouster talk fades, but speculation continues about the next generation of House Democratic leaders

One week after House Democrats finished 0-for-4 in this special election season, their burst of frustration and pique vented toward Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appears to have fizzled.

The vexation is not going to fade away altogether, however, and neither will the lawmakers’ whispered talk in the cloakrooms or after their nightly fundraisers about which of them has a plausible shot at someday becoming Pelosi’s successor.

McHenry, Scalise’s Deputy, Steps Up to Run GOP Whip Operation
A temporary but open-ended promotion

As members flew back to town for the first time since the baseball practice shooting, the House’s No. 3 Republican remained absent indefinitely, and his leadership post was already being occupied temporarily.

The trauma to the Capitol from the grievous wounding of Steve Scalise, who’s set to remain hospitalized into the July Fourth recess and may not return to work before Labor Day, was not reaching in any visible way into the workings of his majority whip operation.

Analysis: No Signs Baseball Shooting Will Change Hill’s Ways
Partisanship will prove stronger than promises of unity after House’s No. 3 GOP leader gravely wounded

Don’t expect the congressional baseball practice shooting to change anything. Not the venomous partisanship that defines life at the Capitol. Not the public’s dismal opinion of the people they’ve sent to Washington. And certainly not the polarized impasse on gun control.

The torrent of words presaging something different began minutes after the shooting stopped Wednesday morning at the Republicans’ suburban practice field, with the third ranking leader of the House majority and four others grievously wounded. Across town, the Democrats halted their own early morning workout to huddle in prayer for their GOP colleagues. Groups advocating for tighter federal restrictions on firearms asserted hopefully that this time, the debate would shift in their favor.

Podcast: Democrats’ Big Test in Georgia
The Big Story, Episode 58

Roll Call political correspondent Simone Pathè explains how the most expensive House race in history, next week's contest to fill an open seat in suburban Atlanta, has already revealed plenty about the new congressional electoral landscape in the age of Trump.

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Will GOP Settle for a Clean Debt Limit Win?
No other legislative victories in sight

Both repelling and wallowing in a manufactured crisis are surefire ways for the Capitol to put itself in the headlines. That’s why some fresh drama fabrication is getting underway, even before the lawmakers have decided if their response will be crisply responsible or melodramatically craven.

This morality play will be about the federal debt, which is not going anywhere except up in the near term, no matter what anyone in Washington says or does to the contrary.

Here Are the 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats Questioning Comey
John McCain and other ex-officio members could make special appearance

James B. Comey is undeniably the star of the show Thursday, when he comes to the main hearing room in the Hart Senate Office Building for his first public testimony since President Donald Trump fired him as FBI director a month ago. But the eight Republican and seven Democratic senators on the Select Intelligence Committee have highly important roles.

That’s because their questioning will go a long way to shaping whether the national television audience views the congressional investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s election as thorough and serious — or just more partisan posturing.

No Summer Job? Hill Turns to Make-Work Budgeting
Broken appropriations system is no friend to unified GOP government

Approaching a half year back in control over Washington, Republicans still lack decent prospects for securing their first meaningful legislative accomplishment — and so they’re anxiously casting about for something productive to do with their summer.

But their most readily available option, trying to create at least the appearance of restoring some regular order to routine appropriations, is essentially guaranteed to generate little beyond disappointment.

Podcast: In Congress, GOP at a Legislative Standstill
The Big Story, Episode 56

Even with the first all-Republican government in a decade, Congress has yet to send any meaningful legislation to President Donald Trump, say CQ Roll Call congressional leadership reporters Niels Lesniewski and Lindsey McPherson. They explain why health care, taxes, the budget and confirmations will likely remain stuck at least through the summer.